Beginnings of the
Ukrainian Settlement
in Toronto, 1903-14

By: Zoriana Sokolsky

From: Polyphony Summer 1984 pp. 55-58
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

The arrival in Toronto of twenty-three-year-old Panteleymon (Peter) Ostapowich with his two friends, Wasyl Neterpka and Strachalsky~ on April 15, 1903, marked the beginning of the Ukrainian settlement here Born in East Galicia (West Ukraine), they first immigrated to the eastern United States and then from the coal mines of Pennsylvania came on to Toronto in search of work, as many other Ukrainians were later to do. Walking along the commercial streets of Spadina and Queen and windering what to do next, they were overheard by a Galician Jew who was distributing bread from his horse-drawn carriage. The good man brought them to his bakery on York Street and arter feeding them and giving each a loaf of bread took them to his friend's house at 49 Nelson Street where they took up residence. Next morning their landlord led them to the Canadian Railway Company where they began work laying sewer pipes at fifteen cents an hour. Two months later, with a rumour of better pay in the mines, Neterpka travelled to Sudbury, but returned empty-handed when the miners there went on strike.

Strachalsky began a new job at a piano factory and Ostapowich receved work at a mattress factory and later at the Harris Abattoir (Canada Packing Company) where he stayed until his retirement in February 1947.

The first Ukrainian immigrants to the city were young, single men whose prime purpose was to earn money either to buy a farm in the Canadian prairies, or to return home to farm. Thus, they were always on the move in search of higher paying jobs, no matter where, and it was not until the outbreak of the First World War and the passage of the War Aliens' Act on August 2, 1914 whereby most of them had to register and report regularly to the police station-that the Ukrainian immigrant community became more stabilized. They were excellent workers and were well-liked by their foremen. Lacking a knowlage of the English language and any professional skills they worked as labourers at all types of jobs, often the hardest and most dangerous. They lived in the Ward-in the heart of downtown Toronto, at that time the primary immigrant receiving in Jewish boardinghouses of their fellow-countrymen. Homesick and lonely, they sent money home to help their families and wrote glowing and enthusiastic letters about conditionsns here. As brothers, sisters and friends began to arrive, the first marriages took place. It is estimated that in 1906 there were about twenty Ukrainian couples, and in 1908 John A. Kolesnikoff, the first Baptist missionary to the Slavs in Toronto, reported to the Baptist Home Mission Board that there were over 400 Ruthenians (as Ukrainians were then called) living in the Ward. As immigration picked up and more Ukrainians arrived, there were some 2,500 Ukrainians in Toronto by the beginning of 1911.

Since no social insurance or workers' relief programs existed, the young immigrants most feared sickness, work accidents and unemployment during the winter months. To counter the threat to livelyhood and well-being a group of men met in a private home on Curch Street across from the St. Michael's Roman Catholic Cathedral in 1906 to form the first Ukrainian benefit society Tovarystvo Sviatoho Mykhaila). It was probably the same which was renewed on October 10, 1910 and which received a charter on November 27, 1911 under the name of the Ruthenian National Benefit Society in Toronto. Its purpose was to help financially in case of sickness or disability, as well as to unit in brotherly love all Ruthenians living in Canada and to , spread enlightenment in the Ruthenian and English languages among the members and to try for their social and spiritual well-being.' ' Renting the Labour Temple hall at 67 Church Street for dances, it aiso became the first social centre for Ukrainians in central Toronto; and in 1913-14 it formed its first drama club and a choir, which, under the direction of Humeniy Tymofiy, staged two performances in the same hall. In 1914 the society changed its patron's name to Taras Shevchenko and in 1926 to the Ukrainian People' s Home Association.

Culturally Ukrainians formed a surprisingly homogeneous group as most came from the villages and towns of East Gaiicia, but religiously they were a diversified group. Although they were predominantly Ukrainian Catholics of the Byzantine rite (Uniates), a large number were also of the Latin rite (Roman Catholics), known as latynnyky. A much smaller number were Ukrainian Orthodox (of the Byzantine rite) from the regions of Bukovina and central Ukraine. Being used to a well-organised church life at home, they found themselves without their own priests and spiritual help in the Ukrainian language. Thus, the Orthodox turned to other non-Ukrainian Orthodox churches (Russian, Bulgaro-Macedonian, Syrian), latynnyky attended the Polish Roman Catholic services started by Father Paui Sobczak in 1906 at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church at Bathurst and Adelaide Streets, and Ukrainian Catholics (Uniates)-although many attended Polish services-waited for their own priest. When in 1911 the St. Stanislaus Church at 12 Denison Avenue was donated to the Polish Roman Catholics by Eugene O'Keefe -the Roman Catholic philanthropist-latynnyky formed the majority and the basis of the St. Stanislaus parish, and a Ukrainian and Polish centre evolved in the vicinity of Queen and Bathurst Streets.

In 1908 John A. Kolesnikoff, a native of Kherson, southern Ukraine, was hired by the Baptist Home Mission Board for missionary work among Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Bulgarians and Macedonians. He opened three missions in Toronto-one at 426 King Street East, where he resided with his family and where the main activities took place, the second at 10 1/2 Alice Street, which was later moved to Elizabeth Street and then to York Street, and the third was opened in 1913 on Dundas Street in West Toronto. The last two were for Ukrainians, Poles and Russians and, beside the regular Bible readings, offered reading-rooms with various publications and evening courses in English and native languages. Regular Christmas dinners were held at the King Street mission, and in 1911-12 Dr. James Simpson conducted a free dispensary once a week. In 1908 Kolesnikoff began publishing a religious four-page magazine, the Good Friend, in Ukrainian, which next year was enlarged to sixteen pages and renamed the Witness of the Truth. In fact, it was the first Ukrainian publication in eastern Canada, a bi-monthly which regularly appeared until the fail of 1917 when Kolesnikoff became seriously ill. His other works in Ukrainian consisted of several religious pamphlets and a book of 125 religious songs called the Ukrainian Arfa. In 1915 Kolesnikoff's Slavic mission consisted of fifty-three people, predominantly Ukrainians and Russians.

In 1910 Wasyl Cwior opened the Ruthenian-Ukrainian Bookstore Prosvita on York Street, which was also Toronto's first Ukrainian printing shop and a mail depot for those men who did not have a fixed address. Cwior, who knew the Ukrainian literary language well and who was a Baptist, edited Kolesnikoff's Ukrainian publications and helped to print them. In 1918 he sold his bookstore to the newly formed, educational and literary Taras Shevchenko Prosvita Society, and the bookstore was run by Nykola Chabal until 1975 when it closed.

Almost from the beginning Ukrainians also began to settle in the west Toronto Junction, which in 1907 was annexed to the City of Toronto. Centred around the Canadian Pacific Railway yards, this area was quickly becoming industrialized and the new plants were offering many jobs. Ukrainians located close to the plants, but when the first Ukrainian church was built at 143 Franklin Avenue in 1914, the area surrounding it became aimost exclusively inhabited by Ukrainians making Royce Avenue (now Dupont Street) its main axis. Here the Royce Avenue Hall was rented for social activities and around 1910 Paul Baran opened the first Ukrainian grocery store. West Toronto evolved into the main Ukrainian settlement in the city, which could be reached from the city centre by the Dundas streetcar.

Lack of Ukrainian clergy was not only a great problem to Ukrainian Catholics, but also to the Roman Catholic Church in Canada. By 1910 the Canadian Roman Catholic Church hierarchy had agreed on establishing a Ruthenian (Ukrainian Catholic) bishopric for Canada in Winnipeg in the hope of solving the problem and decided on its financial and spiritual support. Thus on November 25, 1910, when the primate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in West Ukraine, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky-while touring all major Ukrainian settlements in Canada and the United States-visited the Archbishop of Toronto, Fergus P. McEvay, a foundation was laid not only for the support of the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop, Nicetas Budka, but aiso for the establishment of a Ruthenian parish in Toronto and a Ruthenian theologicai faculty for the training of Ruthenian priests at the soon-to-be-opened St. Augustine's Seminary on Kingston Road. Three months later Rev. Dr. Charles (Carlo) Yermy had arrived, and when St. Augustine's opened in 1913, Rev. Dr. Ambrose Redkewycz was on staff, teaching the Ruthenian rite to six Ukrainian students of theology.

However, the Ukrainian Catholic community knew nothing about the concerns of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toronto and in February 1909 succeeded in obtaining Father John A. Zaklynsky who celebrated the first Mass in a private home at 25 Edith Avenue in west Toronto. He, however, did not stay long, and the community was happy when Father Leo Sembratowicz agreed to commute occasionally from Buffalo. When Father Yermy arrived in Toronto in February 1911, the old St. Helen's Roman Catholic Church, at the corner of Dundas Street and Lansdowne Avenue, was given to Ukrainians for worship until their own could be erected. Regular church life had begun and Father Yermy proceeded to organise the parish, but in June, offended by some parishioners, he suddenly left. Again Father Sembratowicz helped out until Father Joseph (Osyp) Boyarczuk, sent by Bishop Oter Ortynsky of Philadelphia at the request of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toronto, had arrived in February 1912. The energetic thirty-two-year-old priest at once began to organise the parish and collect money for the building of the church. He founded the Brotherhood of St. John the Baptist (Bratstvo Ivana Khrestytela, a sick benefit society), the church choir and a drama club, which in 1912-14 staged four major productions .

On December 12, 1912 Toronto Ukrainians welcomed their first Ukrainian Catholic bishop to Canada, Nicetas Budka, when he stopped in the city on his way to Winnipeg. With the assistance of Father Boyarczuk, he celebrated his first Mass at the old St. Helen's Church, which was filled to more than capacity.

In May 1913 a house was purchased at 143 Franklin Avenue to serve as the rectory, and in July construction of the church across from it had begun. To reduce the costs, parishioners helped with the excavation in their free time. The church was finished in the spring of 1914 and was consecrated by Bishop Budka on Palm Sunday. It became the focal point of Ukrainian life as the church hall was used for various parish activities, performances, concerts, lectures and meetings: a Ukrainian language school for children, educational courses for grown-ups, the benefit society, drama club and the church choir.

When the First World War broke out the Ukrainian community was on the way to a well-organised life, and Toronto was already the largest Ukrainian centre in eastern Canada.

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